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COVER STORY

The Girl Can't Help It

It was never an option that Gwyneth Paltrow wouldn't fly on her own terms. And so, despite famous parents and beau, she has--with thanks to Jane Austen.

July 21, 1996|John Clark | John Clark is an occasional contributor to Calendar

Unfortunately, neither the studios nor the public knew what to do with "Flesh and Bone" or Paltrow, so the media identified her not as an actress in her own right but as Blythe Danner and Bruce Paltrow's daughter--and kept doing it. What's odd about this is that very few people outside the industry know who Bruce Paltrow is, and Blythe Danner, though she has many admirers, is not exactly a household name either.

"It's funny," Gwyneth Paltrow says. "Like you read articles on Ben Stiller, and I think they say less about his parents, that he's the son of Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller. I think people would know more who they are. Why don't they do it with Ben?"

This was just the beginning of Paltrow's complicated relationship with the press. After "Flesh and Bone," she did a slew of movies that would have earned any other promising young actress a degree of attention, but because she was somebody's daughter, and then somebody's girlfriend, she received a sort of third degree of attention.

"They literally make things up," she says of the tabloid coverage of her relationship with Pitt, whom she met around the time they made "Seven." "They'll be like, 'A pal says that Gwyneth said, "I'm just not yet ready for marriage. I want to pursue my own career. Look at all the couples in young Hollywood that don't survive this madness." ' Unbelievable. They just lie and say, 'Gwyneth says yes to marriage after saying no to three proposals.' It's just garbage."

Most of this is written by people who have never met her. But, she insists, even the ones who have don't get it right. One writer said that her ambition was fueled by the death of several friends (she says she takes on projects for a lot of reasons: money, because she likes the scripts and the people involved in it). Another reporter implied that her manner was manufactured and that she was a party animal. ("I never go to clubs," she says. "Ever.") And then there are the questions about what she and Pitt do together.

"I don't understand what people expect," she says. "I'm not going to sit down with a writer and divulge intimate and private things. I'm in a very happy relationship. We're the best of friends. We go out on a date together. We go to the movies. I make dinner. We go out to dinner. We have friends over. Beyond that, I don't know what else people expect me to say."

She thinks that some of her treatment by the press, especially the reports that she's a club-hopping, drug-taking, rock 'n' roll chick, has its roots in jealousy.

"Women get crazy over Brad," she says. "You've never seen anything like it. Women are like, 'I will marry him.' And I'm not talking about 14-year-old girls--28-year-old women. They're obsessed."

She describes her own initial interest in him in much more prosaic terms. In fact, it wouldn't make a bad romantic comedy.

"It would never occur to me to flirt with somebody, even if I had a crush on them," she says, describing herself as a bit "oblivious." "I wouldn't know if somebody was flirting with me. When Brad and I met, he says, it was obvious that he liked me and that I was an idiot. But I had no idea. I thought he was just really friendly." She laughs. "And then I started getting a crush on him. I'm like, 'Are you insane? You can't get a crush on Brad Pitt. Get hold of yourself.' It's funny to think back into that mind now. Now it's so different."

"Emma" is not going to change this state of affairs, but it may give the press something else to talk about. McGrath brought her in for the part at the suggestion of his agent, Boaty Boatwright (who also happens to represent Blythe Danner), and after watching "Flesh and Bone." She was the right age, which was important, and she was a few other things besides.

"The thing that actually sold me on her playing a young English girl was that she did a perfect Texas accent," McGrath says. "I know that wouldn't recommend her to most people. I grew up in Texas, and I have never heard an actor or actress not from Texas sound remotely like a real Texan. I knew she had theater training, so she could carry herself. We had many actresses, big and small, who wanted to play this part. The minute she started the read-through, the very first line, I thought, 'Everything is going to be fine; she's going to be brilliant.' "

It was after this read-through that Miramax Co-Chairman Harvey Weinstein decided to green-light the movie, although Paltrow says it wasn't quite that simple. He had another movie he wanted her to do. . . .

"When he saw the reading, he was like, 'OK, let's do it,' and then he was kind of up in the air and then he said, 'If you do "The Pallbearer," we'll make "Emma." ' He knew I really wanted to do 'Emma' and that I was less keen to do 'The Pallbearer,' " she says.

Meryl Poster, who is senior vice president of production at Miramax, confirms this. In fact, the director, writer and producer of "The Pallbearer" were present at the "Emma" reading and wanted her on the basis of it.

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